When a Chicago-area Uber driver checked his account balance after dropping off a customer at the airport on a Sunday morning in late May, he discovered something he’d never seen before: He was charged $2.20 for giving a 13.5 mile ride.
“On my 40-minute ride home, I was thinking about how I just lost money driving somebody,” said the driver, Kurt, who asked that his last name be withheld for privacy reasons.
Kurt said he submitted a request in the driver app for a fare review but the company said his fare was calculated correctly. (Uber told CNN Business this was an automated response sent in error.) He called driver support, which indicated that agents were unavailable during the weekend. He sent a direct message to Uber Support on Twitter, which was met with generic responses.
As a last resort, he publicly tweeted out a screenshot of his earnings receipt, which went viral. Shortly after, someone from Uber’s support team called him directly to discuss what had happened.
“All it takes is a tweet to get a million impressions and you can get a real person at Uber,” Kurt, who has been driving for Uber for two years, told CNN Business. “They compensated me for the glitch or whatever – it shouldn’t even be possible. It should literally never happen.”
Kurt is one of several drivers CNN Business spoke with, all operating in the Chicago area, who reported losing money while giving one or more rides due to what the company said was a software glitch and then struggling to fix the issue.
“Due to a software bug, fares for certain trips booked through our new Reserve product were miscalculated. This was a terrible customer experience for drivers, and for that we apologize,” an Uber spokeswoman said in a statement to CNN Business. “We’ve ensured drivers have been paid in full for all affected trips, fixed the bug, and have put new safeguards in place.”
The company did not say how long the bug was impacting drivers, or how many were impacted, but those seen by CNN Business occurred in recent weeks.
Uber introduced Reserve in November 2020, which allows riders to book trips up to 30 days in advance with upfront pricing, among other perks. The spokeswoman acknowledged that drivers who experienced the issue with certain Reserve bookings weren’t appropriately supported when reaching out about the issue and claimed to be reevaluating its support process so issues can be better addressed when they arise in the future. The spokeswoman said the company adjusted trips impacted and provided additional payments to drivers for the inconvenience.
It’s just the latest recent hiccup that highlights the precarious nature of working for Uber or other on-demand companies as an independent contractor with few benefits and protections. The company reportedly offered to cover some health insurance costs for workers last month accidentally, only to later rescind the offer and explain it was intended for California drivers, where it is legally obligated to provide health care subsidies for certain drivers. Additionally, recent customer complaints about expensive fares amid a driver shortage have drawn attention to Uber’s practice of upcharging customers during periods of high demand with surge pricing without directly funneling that money into higher earnings for drivers. (In response, Uber’s CEO claimed “drivers are getting a higher cut of the fare hike,” despite how it decouples surge pricing from driver pay.)
These issues come at a tricky moment for the company. It is trying to attract drivers back to the platform after demand for its service plummeted during the pandemic, but it is doing so amid a broader labor shortage that has given workers more leverage and put more pressure on businesses to improve compensation and conditions.
Anthony Novales, another Uber driver, told CNN Business he was docked $44.64 after a recent 34 minute ride. After reaching out to Uber, he was told there was an “outage,” something Kurt said he was also told, and that the company was investigating. (Uber told CNN Business it considered the issue an “outage” because its systems weren’t performing as intended.) Several days later, he said the company messaged to say: “Uber incorrectly charged you amounts you should not have been charged and/or failed to ensure that you received your earnings.” The company said he would receive a $25 credit “as a small thank you for your patience,” and it would remove incorrect charges.
“It seems kind of weird to me that a company of this size can’t fix this matter [on the spot] when you can clearly see what the problem is,” said Novales. He told CNN Business he was unsure if he even received the credit, but either way feels it isn’t enough. “Not only did I lose money but I didn’t get paid for the trip itself.”
For his part, Kurt said he received multiple credits to his account after his experience went viral and caught Uber’s attention: A $50 reimbursement for the trip, with an additional $150 for his troubles; a $36.67 payment, with an additional $25 for his inconvenience; a $25 payment, according to screenshots viewed by CNN Business.
“I don’t know how I feel about the resolution,” he said. “I just feel like they really don’t care about drivers.”